On Saturday, June 9, Pope Francis met with oil and natural gas executives and investors in a conference at the Vatican on “Energy Transition and Care for our Common Home” to discuss the future of energy. In his speech, he addressed the challenge of finding ways to meet the vast energy needs of the more than one billion people without electricity, while simultaneously using natural resources in a manner that does not lead to excessive degradation or pollution of the natural environment.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the 40 executives attending the meeting included BlackRock, Exxon Mobil, and British Petroleum CEOs Laurence Fink, Darren Woods, and Bob Dudley, respectively. He urged them to use their influence and expertise to provide the world’s needy with clean energy.
“Air quality, sea levels, adequate fresh water reserves, climate control and the balance of delicate ecosystems – all are necessarily affected by the ways that human beings satisfy their “thirst” for energy, often, sad to say, with grave disparities,” Francis pointed out. “The energy question has become one of the principal challenges, in theory and in practice, facing the international community.”
Francis has urged for a long-term strategy on global energy security to both protect the environment and to ensure sustainable economic development. This would entail a reduction of the burning of fossil fuels and the increase in use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. The mass adoption of cleaner energy would, in turn, help the world pursue the limits to global warming set by the Paris Agreement of 2015.
Yet it seems as though the world is a long way off from achieving a cleaner and more sustainable energy policy. Energy producers are constantly searching for new fossil fuel reserves, especially in a time where the relatively new technology of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, has significantly reduced the cost of oil and natural gas. With cheap gasoline available, consumers may be less inclined to pay the high upfront costs for renewable energy technology, such as for electric cars, for instance.
However, progress continues to be made. New environmental regulations have forced oil and gas companies to change their day-to-day operations. Developed countries have made laudable attempts to increase their energy efficiency so as to lower total consumption of fossil fuels. The global transportation sector, for instance, has become more and more fuel efficient over time. New market mechanisms such as the carbon tax have made fossil fuels more expensive in countries such as Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway, while the cap-and-trade system limiting emissions has been implemented in about 40 countries including South Korea and China.
In his relatively recent encyclical on the environment titled “Laudato Si”, released in 2015, Francis illustrates the grave human and environmental implications of the global issue of climate change. He argues that businesses in rich, developed countries, by exporting their pollution to developing countries, are destroying the future of the poor.
According to Francis, humans have been disillusioned by the teachings of the Bible into believing that they have been given dominion over the Earth, its resources, and its creatures. “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence … We have no such right.” The pope has said that human care for the environment ought to be added to the Gospel’s seven spiritual works of mercy, and man’s destruction of the environment should be considered a sin that necessitates God’s forgiveness. Francis has also stressed that access to safe, clean drinking water is a God-given human right. He asserts that individuals and the international community need to take greater action to care for and protect the environment, whether through less resource consumption or more stringent environmental policy.
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